Today's New Yorker features a comprehensive essay by the always, always insightful Joan Acocella on gay writer J.R. Ackerley, author of an early play, a barely disguised novel, and three memoirs, the most famous of which is My Dog Tulip. A bit of a perfectionist, Ackerley spent 34 years working on his final book about his father, who was a closet bigamist (having three children by his other wife) and secretly was a gay hustler during his years in the Guards. When, late in life, Ackerley tried to come out to him, his father interrupted with, “It’s all right, old boy. I prefer not to know. So long as you enjoyed yourself, that’s the main thing.”
In his writing, Ackerley refused to be cut off and insisted on over-sharing. For one, his sexual relations -- "fantastically promiscuous," always with himself fully clothed and the young Guardsman, soldier, or cop fully naked, never ever oral -- were ruined by premature ejaculation. Acocella ponders the moral dimensions:
"How do you survive the humiliation of always having your body go against your will? Do you have to succeed at sex in order to feel that you have succeeded in life? And how do you tell your partner, who at that moment is innocently taking off his clothes, that the act for which he is preparing has already been completed?"
More importantly, she realizes, "The real fruit of Ackerley’s candor, however, is the power it lent his writing: the richness of characterization, the tartness of metaphor, the protection that honesty gives against sentimentality, or just a stupid simplicity." She is just as wise about the works themselves. Don't miss Hindoo Holiday about his six months in 1923 as secretary to a gay maharaja in Chhatarpur. But first read Acocella's essay. After the books, go on to his biography by Peter Parker which she calls "superb."